An Inspiring Journey
Puerto Rican Students Visit NIH
Under the Veterans Health Administration Diversity Summer Program banner, a group of students from Puerto Rico embarked on a memorable journey to NIH. The visit was a collaborative effort, coordinated by Patricia Sauceda Kramer of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Dr. Ingrid M. Bonilla Mercado, a research health scientist at the Caribbean Health Care System of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine.
The trip was more than just a standard educational excursion, said organizers. It was a bridge between academic knowledge and the vast enterprise of real-world research.
The main objective behind this effort was multifaceted, Kramer explained. “It aimed to give these budding researchers a firsthand experience of the groundbreaking research conducted at NIH, allowing them to visualize themselves as pivotal contributors to the future of medical science,” she said. “In addition, by interacting with the brilliant minds at NIH, the students got a taste of the diverse career avenues open to them in medical research.”
As the students navigated through various institutes within NIH, they met with leading researchers who shared their work, challenges and success stories. The interactions were more than just academic exchanges; they were powerful mentorship, guidance and inspiration moments.
While specifics of individual meetings varied, each encounter left an indelible mark on the young minds.
One of the most impactful moments was when Dr. Hugo Alejandro Tejeda, a Latino researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, opened up about his journey in the scientific world.
A Stadtman investigator who serves as chief of the unit on neuromodulation and synaptic integration, he spoke about the challenges, the highs and lows, and the passion that kept him going. With heartfelt sincerity, he expressed his aspiration to mentor young Latinos, emphasizing the importance of representation in research.
Bonilla Mercado encapsulated the spirit of the visit, stating, “I would like to thank all the researchers, NIH and EDI for organizing an amazing experience for our future researchers and allowing the office of equity and diversity to take care of this. It was significant for our students to see the amazing research efforts at NIH and see themselves represented in those efforts.”
These initiatives are not just field trips but life-altering experiences, Kramer concluded. “They foster a sense of belonging, ignite passion and sow the seeds of future collaborations. They are endeavors that nurture the next generation of scientists and researchers.”